As awareness of the U.S. sex-trafficking industry increases, many states have enacted laws to combat it. While a few have backed get-tough laws with significant funding to support victims, many have not, the Associated Press reports. In Michigan, legislators beamed with pride as Gov. Rick Snyder signed 21 anti-trafficking bills. For a state ranked by advocacy groups as woefully behind in addressing the problem, the package was touted as a huge step forward. Yet the bills contained virtually no new funding, even though a high-powered state commission had reported a serious lack of support services and specialized housing for victims. “For all the hoopla, it’s blatantly not true that we’re now at the forefront,” said professor Bridgette Carr, a member of the commission and director of the Human Trafficking Clinic at the University of Michigan Law School. “For many of these victims, there’s often no place to go.”
Sex trafficking had been considered a foreign problem, something relegated to Eastern Europe or Asia. In recent years, advocacy groups have called attention to people who were similarly victimized in the U.S., and legislators in every state have embraced the issue, taking the politically easy step of toughening laws. National advocacy groups such as the Polaris Project and Shared Hope International say relatively few states (Minnesota and Florida are notable exceptions) have appropriated substantial funding to support victims with shelter, mental-health services and life-skills training. Without such services, advocates say, many victims are less useful as witnesses against traffickers and more vulnerable to being forced or lured back to the sordid underworld that exploited them. “We are seeing some states stepping up, but the majority don’t have anything specific in their budgets,” said Britanny Vanderhoof of the Polaris Project.